Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law questioned amid allegations of a cover up
By Aimena Lipscomb
The FBI and the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division have stepped in to further investigate the Trayvon Martin tragedy. Martin, a 17-year-old, 140 lb unarmed teen, was shot and killed February 26 by 28-year-old George Zimmerman, the self-appointed town watch president of the Retreat Twin Lakes gated community in Sanford, Florida.
The announcement of the grand jury inquiry and the federal investigation came after demonstrations outside the Seminole County Courthouse by college students and a growing number of complaints that the Sanford Police Department had mishandled the case.
The shooting also raised new questions about Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law, approved in 2005. The law does not require a person who is threatened to retreat in order to claim self-defense, and Zimmerman has claimed he fired his weapon while defending himself.
The tragedy occured on a rainy night while Martin was walking back to his father’s home from a convenience store. According to official dispatch tapes of the incident, Zimmerman called police and 911 seven times to report a “suspicious” person walking with a hood draped over his head who looked black.
“This guy looks up to no good or on drugs or something,” he tells the dispatcher in his initial call. “It’s raining and he’s just walking around looking about.”
Despite police telling Zimmerman to stop following Martin, he allegedly continued to do so.
The next series of calls came in from anxious neighbors; faint cries for help and terrifying howls can be heard in the background. Neighbors said they had seen two men nearby in the dark. They reported hearing a gunshot. “A guy yelled: ‘Help! Oh, my God,’ “ one man told the dispatcher. “There is a black guy down and it looks like he’s been shot and he’s dead.”
When police arrived they found Martin lying facedown on a patch of grass about 70 feet from his family’s home, a pack of Skittles in one pocket and an iced tea in the other. Martin was pronounced dead at the scene, his body was taken to the morgue and tagged as “John Doe”, where it stayed for several days.
Although police had Martin’s cell phone in their possession, his parents were not contacted. His father put out a missing person report when his son did not return home. Only then did police make an effort to identify the teen.
Martin’s parents say they have no doubt that it’s their son pleading for his life in the background of the audio. They say they can imagine Trayvon reacting with fright upon seeing a burly stranger trailing him in his car, then getting out to follow him.
“I listened to the tapes and it just broke my heart again to hear him screaming out for help and pleading for his life, and he was still murdered,” said Sybrina Fulton, Martin’s mother.
While Martin had no criminal record, Zimmerman was arrested once in 2005 on felony charges of battery on a police officer and resisting arrest with violence. Prosecutors chose not to pursue the case. Police logs show that Zimmerman has called the police 46 times in the past 14 months to report “suspicious-looking” black males, reckless drivers and other disturbances around his neighborhood.
Jasmine Rand, attorney for Trayvon’s mother says the Florida State Attorney and the Sanford police are investigating this case with the mind-set to prove Zimmerman’s self-defense claim. Citizens are pouring out in numbers holding signs that read “Justice for Trayvon” and waving packs of Skittles in the air. “Trayvon was just walking home and got caught in the rain,” says Shelton Mitchell, President of the Black Law Students Association at Florida A &M University. “In law we are taught with self-defense, you need force with force, how does a man carrying a 9mm pistol and a teen carrying a pack of Skittles constitute that?”
Trayvon was killed just four weeks after Bronx teen Ramarley Graham 18, was shot and killed by NY police officer, Richard Haste 30, after he was chased to his Grandmother’s home. Police forcefully entered the home without proper announcement or a warrant. Graham was also unarmed.